Faculty & Staff Guidelines for Assisting Students

Faculty & Staff Guidelines for Assisting Students

Most students are likely to experience some degree of stress in the academically competitive setting of a college or university. Given the stress and their developmental stage, some students experience emotional, interpersonal or spiritual problems that can interfere with their academic performance. They may not have the requisite coping skills to sustain them through the new challenges of college life.

Although many students seek professional counseling on their own, it is important to know that many other students receive the help they need only after a faculty or staff member has referred them. You are the “eyes” and “ears” of the community and may be the first to recognize that a student is struggling. Students are also likely to turn to you because they know you and respect you. While your role may involve some form of counseling--especially advising and mentoring--it is important for your sake and the student’s that you know when to refer.

The PLNU counseling services utilizes the following guidelines for effective faculty/staff response to students in distress, as outlined by Benton, Benton and Perl (“College student mental health: Effective services and strategies across campus.” National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Inc., 2006): The Three “Rs” of RECOGNIZE, RESPOND and REFER.

In your interactions with students, it is important to be able to recognize signs that a student may be struggling, particularly if you notice those signs becoming patterns of behavior. The following is a list of behaviors to watch for:

* Forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating
* Dramatic change in class or work performance, excessive procrastination
* Anxiety, nervousness
* Low energy, sad appearance
* Uncontrollable crying
* Irritability, low frustration tolerance
* “Hyper” or agitated behavior, reports of sleeplessness
* Extreme dependency (e.g., a student who takes up an inordinate amount of your time)
* Extreme weight gain or loss
* Coming to class or work under the influence of drugs or alcohol
* Marked deterioration in personal hygiene
* Angry or threatening outbursts
* Talking (or writing) about hurting themselves or someone else
* Strange or bizarre behavior or thoughts and ideas
* Incoherent speech

RESPOND: Listen and Ask
if you observe a behavior of concern, assess your comfort level and relationship with the student and determine if you are in a good position to talk with the student. If not, proceed to “REFER” options below. If so, begin by ASKING a question that communicates your concern, something as simple as “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately . . . how have things been going?” or “We haven’t touched base in a while, and I thought I’d just check in to see if you’re doing OK.”

LISTEN carefully, and pay full attention to verbal and nonverbal communication. Remain calm and open, and avoid making assumptions, jumping to conclusions, and labeling (diagnosing). You may want to ask them about their network of support, noting whether or not you are it.

If a student approaches you with a concern, again LISTEN. ASK questions so that you can better understand what the student wants to convey to you. Students may be quite eager to discuss problems directly with you, some of which you may not feel comfortable or qualified to deal with. Some examples include the following:

* Family or other relationship issues
* Recent or past traumatic experiences
* Health or body image concerns
* Sexual behavior
* Alcohol/substance abuse
* Financial challenges
* Career and life planning
* Faith and spiritual concerns
* Meaning and identity development

REFER: Evaluate your levels of concern and levels of action
Depending on the intensity and severity of the student’s concern and your degree of comfort and expertise; you have several options listed below (in ascending order of seriousness).
Alert the Student Care Group of your concern by sending a note via email to Dr. Jeffrey Carr, Associate Vice President for Student Development.

1. Continue to touch base with the student, recommending resources as appropriate (e.g., friends, family, R.A., R.D., campus pastor, etc.).
2. Recommend additional professional resources, including counseling services in the Wellness Center. (“It sounds like you’re under a lot of stress. We have professional counselors trained to help students with stress”). You may encourage them to make an appointment, and accompany them to the Wellness Center.
3. Offer to look at the Counseling Center website with the student and help them submit the “request for counseling” form (available online).
4. Consult by phone or in person with Dr. Kim Bogan, Associate Dean, Student Success & Wellness; or Laurie Floren, Wellness Center Senior Clinician.
5. If urgent, walk with the student and accompany them to the Wellness Center. 
6. For concerns before and after hours, call Public Safety, ext. 2525 (619-849-2525) or the Resident Director-On-Call (Phone: 619-564-0406).
7. In case of a medical or psychological emergency, call PLNU Department of Public Safety.